Home > Uncategorized > The knowledge of childless philosophers

The knowledge of childless philosophers

from Asad Zamzn

Continuing from the previous post on The WHY of Crazy Models, I attribute a large portion of the blame to massively wrong theories of knowledge. A little bit of study of epistemology is enough to give anyone a headache. Because of this, instead of investing the time and effort to decipher what the philosophers are saying, the rest of us are willing to take it on faith. No one is aware of the massive amount of damage done by philosophers – most philosophers themselves are unaware the tremendous influence that their failures in the past have had on the real world. Similarly, the non-philosophers are unaware of how deeply their thoughts have been affected by false and obsolete philosophies, now rejected by the philosophers. Keynes summed up the state of affairs nicely in his apt quote:  “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back” –  While Keynes thinks that practical men of affairs are slaves of economists, I believe that the economists and social scientists are slaves of defunct philosophers, without realizing this.

In preparing this post, I decided to review the theories of knowledge, to provide a brief sketch of how epistemology went astray, allowing us to create crazy models and to consider them as an advance on knowledge. I found a . . . read more

  1. Ikonoclast
    February 4, 2020 at 2:29 am

    The West’s main problem, as I see it, has been to remain rooted philosophically and religiously in Cartesian dualism. Mechanistic science (derived from classical Newtonian physics) found reductionism useful and progressive but this eventually led to an impasse where the phenomena of complex systems, evolution and emergence could not be fully understood in the opposite direction to reduction namely in the additive or accretionist direction.

    Philosophical dualism derives its common-sense appeal and seeming persuasiveness from the subjective feeling that consciousness is somehow opposed to, and qualitatively different from, that which it apprehends. Thence, conscious thinking, res cogitans, is assumed without proper proofs, to belong to a different category from the physical, res extensa. Whilst it might be useful in some ways to categorize aspects of existence into mind and matter and treat them as if they are of different substances, the different substances hypothesis rapidly leads to insuperable difficulties in philosophical analysis. More to the point, physical discoveries, the great progress of the physical, biophysical and neurological sciences, for example, are of no use in analyzing supposed mental or spiritual substance under an assumption of dualism. Mental or spiritual substance is a priori ruled to exist and to be “other than” and “not subject to” the rules of the complex physical systems of the cosmos, the world and all their subsystems.

    A better fit to modern scientific discoveries is priority monism. A single “substance” monistic thesis within this ostensibly physical realm is able to deploy, as it were, all the discovered scientific laws of this realm of investigation, which is orthodoxly called “the physical”, without philosophically running into the “transmission problem”: the problem of determining how mental substance influences physical substance and vice versa. The distinction between so-called physical and so-called non-physical disappears as a priority monist philosophy is developed. The argument between Physicalism (materialism) and Idealism (immaterialism) evaporates as a false dichotomy. This is not a mystical thesis at all but a completely science-congruent thesis. Physicalists or materialists will find that, in practice, this philosophy does not differ from thirs in any point related to accepted, dependable knowledge from the hard sciences. For all practical purposes,”monist existentism” is still physicalism. However, the philosophical move to “existent-ism” as opposed to physicalism is really to do with avoiding a priori assumptions about the essential nature of the existent.

    Any dispelling of an illusion of rationalism or “pure reason” (like the illusion of dualism) does not alter the makeup of existence nor alter the Fundamental Laws of existence. I use the term “Laws” here in the strong sense, as used in the phrase “the Laws of Physics”. An illusion is simply a modelling mistake made by a conscious system, or by a pre-conscious system linked to a conscious system in a single nervous system.

    Whether one has a rationalized illusion or an objective perception (according variously to a priori justification, belief, argument or experience) of alleged external objective reality – the latter being defined as that externality which is apparently apprehended by the senses and reconstructed in the brain as qualia and then further processed into rational cognition – these differences of rational illusion versus objective perception (all being “mere” ideational constructions as models in the brain) do not usually in and of themselves affect the quantity and quality of the qualia themselves. It generally takes a physical (somatic or neurological) disorder, from say colour blindness to schizophrenia, to alter qualia profoundly enough to seriously alter basic perception of external objective reality or internal subjective reality or what generally, by human consensus, are taken to be such in each case.

    Thus, I am simply saying that removing a major rationalist illusion, namely dualism, will not in any way make a person experience the world differently in terms of qualia. There will be no mystical enlightenment, no gnosis and no religious experience. There should be a resolution and correction of certain rationalist illusions at the level of disciplined reasoning. Metaphysics and other disciplines should be freed to consider existence more consistently and empirically without spurious a priori divisions like those made by dualism.

    This argument arrives at one conclusion (though not the most important one necessarily) that, since all of existence operates in one system, then ultimately it makes no sense to call this monistic system “physical” as the materialists do or “non-physical” as the idealists do. At this level,priority (system) monism simply asserts that what exists, exists. This is a “brute fact” argument in philosophical terms. It makes no sense to label monistic All-Existence as “physical” or “non-physical”. The term “physical” loses meaning when there is nothing which can be termed “non-physical” and vice versa. Such distinctions properly vanish in thorough-going Monism and are revealed simply as the remnants of an archaic philosophical lexicon. What remains for ordered philosophical investigation, for pragmatic scientific investigation and as a guide to practical everyday actions are the dependable laws of relation within the system, meaning between the system elements which themselves are sub-systems.

    To the theologically inclined this leaves out the Absolute. I will come to that. The statement below is intended to illustrate the Cosmos as a system of sub0systems. The double-pipe symbol of || (if it prints successfully when I post) is intended to indicate a system interface.

    Schema A. Cosmos || World || Humans || Brains || Minds || Formal Systems

    Each system is a sub-system of the system to its left. In a one-substance monistic system this indicates that formal systems (a sub-set of which are ideas) are no different in substance form all systems to its left. This would be difficult for most philosophers and theologians to accept.Nevetheless I assert it in all seriousness. The ramifications of this radical assumption (for it still an a priori assumption) are quite extensive and I have not the space to go into them here.

    Finally, the schema might be represented as follows if we discarde the assumption that the Universe or Cosmos itself is ontologically complete and absolute;

    Schema B. Absolute ][ Cosmos || World || Humans || Brains || Minds || Formal Systems

    The square brackets indicate a system boundary which is

    In the case of schema B, “Absolute” may mean for example Christian God, Muslim Allah, Hindu Brahma, Buddhist “Void” or any other unrevealed, un-intuited or unknown form of the Absolute. In this case, a new symbol is required, namely “][“, to illustrate that this is not an interface of the same type as the others which are real system interfaces and which can transfer or share (in both directions) matter, energy and information. This new interface has unknown properties and perhaps unknowable properties. In turn, everything to the right of the “][“ symbol should be properly regarded as sub-systems of the or by the Absolute. But “Absolutely induced Monism” would still posit that everything right of the “][“ symbol is all connected, multipli-interacting and self cross-generating or at least self cross-maintaining , save perhaps direct, Absolute intervention(s) of various kinds: so-called miracles in some theologies.

    I mention this last not to take a theological tangent but rather to warn us against taking theological tangents. If we accept we can develop some knowledge within our existent realm (the Cosmos) through experience (which is each person’s body-brain system interacting with other systems in this Cosmos not our body and brain) then we also accept that we can only gain experience and thus possibly some knowledge of this existent realm. The Absolute, if it exists remains inscrutable and we can deduce little to nothing about it.

    • Craig
      February 4, 2020 at 5:27 am

      Excellent post except for the last sentence. The absolute is here and everywhere at all times. The thrust toward complex organization is probably an aspect of the cosmos resulting in our normal walking around experience of consciousness, and heightened consciousness is simply a natural, more focused and direct experience of the electro-magnetic flux that pervades space….everywhere at all times. The experience is all natural….including the ecstatic nature of the experience.

  2. Frank Salter
    February 4, 2020 at 10:23 am

    To spend so much time and effort in discussion at the meta level is another exercise in futility. Theorising at the category level allows the similarities between two apparently different fields of knowledge to be understood. But this blog talks about models without understanding how dimensional analysis is critical to modelling. Dimensional analysis is one of sciences most important techniques in making the real world and its mechanisms understandable. It allows practitioners to deal with as many factors as they think may be significant in order to examine the problem at hand.

    It also demonstrates the total lack of any valid quantitative theory in orthodox and heterodox analysis.

    • Ikonoclast
      February 4, 2020 at 9:41 pm

      Not necessarily. If you get your ontology wrong then every deduction and calculation is wrong after that. If I begin my ontology with the a priori assumptions of sympathetic magic then I will not be able to properly harness causes to produce effects. Sympathetic magic, also known as imitative magic, is a type of magic based on imitation or correspondence to produce effects.

      “If we analyze the principles of thought on which magic is based, they will probably be found to resolve themselves into two: first, that like produces like, or that an effect resembles its cause; and, second, that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed. The former principle may be called the Law of Similarity, the latter the Law of Contact or Contagion. From the first of these principles, namely the Law of Similarity, the magician infers that he can produce any effect he desires merely by imitating it: from the second he infers that whatever he does to a material object will affect equally the person with whom the object was once in contact, whether it formed part of his body or not.” – James George Frazer.

      If we begin our economic ontology with the principle that a nominal numeraire, money, reflects and compares real “value”, whatever that is, then we are commencing with something very similar to sympathetic magic thinking. Indeed, “real value” is an oxymoron when it refers to how humans qualitatively, heuristically and with fuzzy logic evaluate the economic value of A compared to B. These are not real values. They are fluid, qualitative values which slide all over the place.

      Giving something real a quantity numeric (say moles of atoms in a container) and giving something nominal (dollars) a quantity numeric only performs a “sympathetic magic” operation of making them superficially alike. We think that because we measure both in numbers this means one can measure the other and one can influence the other. The former proposition always remains false. The latter proposition becomes true only as a fictive socially reality. We believe it is true so we make it true. It becomes a coordinating system just as red and green traffic lights become a coordinating system. If the sign before the balance in your operating account is negative then it is a red light to spending. If the sign before the balance in your operating account is positive then it is a green light to spending.

      The coordinating system of money and finance is a prescriptive system not a descriptive system. It neither describes nor measures anything real. It simply prescribes who is empowered to own or consume any item. In turn, the allocation of these “permission chits to consume” is not based on productivity. There is plenty of heterodox economic literature fully debunking that claim.

      The whole political economy debate really needs to happen at the level of ethics and justice and I mean justice for both humans and all other denizens of the natural world. This is inescapable. What is right and just for humans (and animals and plants)? What are the requirements for our proper stewardship of the earth (since we have in our hubris largely taken it over)?

      So long as people believe in the money/finance system they will make it work in a fashion (prescriptively). However, as what it prescribes comes more and more into conflict with the real systems of the natural world, the damage to the natural world will collapse the ecology, the climate and finally the economy. This damage in turn will collapse belief in money, finance and the capitalist system (which last is our modern religion).

      This will leave other religions and other magics (old and new) on the one hand and empiricism simpliciter on the other. I would choose empiricism. I suspect most people will choose something else.

      • Frank Salter
        February 5, 2020 at 8:18 am

        I am in total agreement about empiricism. In fact, my discussion on dimensional analysis demands it. My analysis, “Transient Development” RWER-81, is an analysis from first principles, i.e. it is derived from real facts, which is totally different from other economic analyses.

  3. February 5, 2020 at 9:34 am

    Trying to move the argument on:

    Iconoclast, I agree. “We believe it is true so we make it true. … The whole political economy debate really needs to happen at the level of ethics and justice and I mean justice for both humans and all other denizens of the natural world.”

    So instead of believing in the value of commodities we need to be believing in the value of humans and other life? Instead of believing that pricing work will deliver fair shares of goods we need to start with fair shares of credit? Instead of treasuring the wealth we have won we we need to reproduce the goods we actually use?

    Asad, your focus on childless philosophers is instructive, but why were they required to be celibate? It goes back to the Christian apostles and the communities they visited not being burdened with the support of families, and the early universities for similar reasons licencing only celibate priests.

    But what can we learn from philosophers with children? I’m thinking particularly of A N Whitehead, who moved away from measuring things to grappling with processes. See http://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Whitehead.html .

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